Peripheral Artery Disease study: Reduce leg pain with arm exercise?

6:06 PM, Jan 12, 2010   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- A new study at the University of Minnesota could lead to a new treatment option for a condition some eight million Americans struggle with. 

It's called Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and the American Heart Association say those with PAD are at four to five times higher risk of heart attack or stroke. 

Sixty-seven year old Jeffrey Holzman of Minnetonka has PAD. He says, "It's primarily right in the calf, the muscle. It gets so tight, it's painful." 

Holzman says walking faster than a stroll is tough and he sometimes has a hard time keeping up with friends. 

Nurse Diane Treat-Jacobson, an associate professor with the U of M School of Nursing describes PAD as, "a disease that causes blockage in the arteries that feed the legs. They [people with PAD] don't have enough blood flow for the muscles that are working so they get pain in their legs when they walk."

Holzman says, "This is an irritant. It affects the quality of my life."

One of the treatment options for PAD is, believe it or not, more walking.

Holzman says, "Treadmill exercise is very effective." 

But Treat-Jacobson and other U of M School of Nursing researchers think exercising the arms instead of the legs may also reduce walking pain. So they're conducting the EXERT study

Treat-Jacobson says, "You can stimulate the heart, the breathing, the vascular system and all the vessels are connected. So we think that we're improving the function of the blood vessels just by exercising the arms." 

If it works, people too frail for treadmill exercise or those who avoid it due to pain could benefit. 

A pilot study showed promise. According to Treat-Jacobson, "Not only did we find the patients who did arm exercise improve their walking, we also found the patients who did arm exercise lowered their blood pressure." 

Now Holzman is enrolled in the larger study. Is the arm exercise working for him? 

He says with a smile, "They won't tell me yet. But I do know my arm has grown 5 1/2 centimeters." And climbing stairs is easier. He says, "My endurance seems to be a little better." 

The U of M School of Nursing is looking for more people with PAD to participate in the EXERT study.  

Call 612-624-7614 or check out the EXERT study website.




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